On March 28, 1992, Grant Hill threw an inbounds pass three-quarters of the way down the court to Christian Laettner, who took one dribble at the free throw line and hit a turnaround jumper at the buzzer to give Duke a 104-103 win over Kentucky and send the Blue Devils to the Final Four. Twenty-five years later, that moment remains the most iconic play in NCAA Tournament history.
There have been other incredible moments and buzzer-beaters since Hill’s prayer to Laettner — last year’s game-winner for Villanova in the title game will be featured on every NCAA Tournament highlight reel from now on — but nothing has been able to top “The Shot.” Everything fell into place perfectly in that moment to create an all-time moment.
There was a trip to the Final Four on the line. There was the act itself, which required a perfect baseball pass from Hill and a turnaround jumper at the buzzer from Laettner. There were two of the biggest player names in college hoops at the time in key positions in a game between two blue-blood programs.
Over two decades after throwing the most famous inbounds pass in basketball history, Hill is back at the Final Four as an analyst for CBS and Turner Sports. This is Hill’s third season along side Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery on the lead announce team for the NCAA Tournament and Final Four coverage, which means he’s seen his pass to Laettner on the video highlights leading into games for two years, but with this year being the 25th anniversary of “The Shot” it’s a little extra special.
Hill spoke with Dime Magazine on Monday about his memories of the shot, and took us step-by-step through that play and the ensuing celebration from his view from the baseline.
“First of all, it’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years. It does seem like yesterday.
“When I threw the ball, it felt good when it left my hand and I know when Christian caught it, and he had the presence of mind to take a dribble and gather himself, I remember I was thinking, don’t dribble! Don’t dribble! We don’t have enough time! That was going through my mind really quickly. And then when he turned over his left shoulder and let it fly, I had the perfect angle, and I could see that it was on line. But it felt like the ball was in the air forever. It felt like The Natural with Robert Redford. Is this thing going to in or what?
“And then what I recall, as soon as it went through, the Duke fans were behind the basket and kind of to the left of the basket behind our bench. And it was like everyone was shot out of a cannon in the celebration, and I could see it all.
“Then, the last thing of course, is I was trying to run and catch Christian and he had the gall to try to avoid me. He wanted a few more seconds of the camera time on him alone.
“But it was a great play, and we get to relive it every year. I’m still just amazed that 25 years later that people still remember it and still talk about it. I get people randomly coming up to me and talking about that play.
Now, I will say this on the flip side. We had a pretty comfortable lead up 10-12 points in the second half and we started getting lazy and sloppy, so I still get upset when I think about how we almost let it slip away by getting complacent there in the second half. But, maybe it’s a good thing, because if we won by 10 maybe no one would remember that game.”
Hill’s pass and Laettner’s shot are etched into the basketball world’s collective memories, but for Hill and those involved you can tell that the emotion of the moment is something that has stayed with them for the last 25 years.
He remembers the discussion in the huddle prior to the play, where Coach Krzyzewski asked if he could make the pass and Christian could make the shot. He remembers watching the ball tracking to the hoop from behind the play, and then the ensuing celebration from his teammates and Duke fans in the arena — and Laettner trying to dodge his hug, of course.
Hill and Laettner aren’t the only ones whose legacies are tied to that play as well. Verne Lundquist was on the call for that game and his “Yes!” call as Laettner’s shot went through at the buzzer remains one of his all-time greatest calls, up there with his Masters calls of Tiger Woods’ chip on 16 in 2005 (“In your life!”) and Jack Nicklaus sinking the putt on 17 in 1986 (“Yessir!”) and his SEC on CBS calls of the Kick Six and more.
“The Shot” may be 25 years old, but for those that were a part of it, it still feels fresh. In 25 more years, when we celebrate the 50th anniversary, that will probably still be true and that footage of Hill throwing a strike to Laettner will still be rolling as part of every NCAA Tournament highlight reel.